There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
“Flowers for Charlie,” a 2013 episode of the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This riff on Daniel Keyes’ 1966 science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon (which was later made into a movie called Charly, named after the novel’s protagonist) finds the gang from the dank Philly bar Paddy’s Pub volunteering for an intelligence-boosting pharmaceutical test but becoming irritated when the scientists are only interested in their dim, impulsive handyman Charlie Kelly (played by Charlie Day). They’re even more annoyed when their disgusting little buddy pops the pills and immediately starts cleaning up his act, questioning the nature of his existence as Paddy’s resident peon. Beyond the plot being a clever remake of Keyes’ story (with a little of the movie Limitless sprinkled in), the episode is noteworthy for who wrote it: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the producers and showrunners of HBO’s mega-hit fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Why watch now?
Because Game of Thrones returns this Sunday night for its eighth and final season.
Benioff and Weiss have a lot riding on these final six episodes. They have to deliver a satisfying ending to a TV series with a global audience of more than 25 million viewers (according to HBO’s reported numbers). Plus, they’re finishing their version of a story author George R.R. Martin started back in 1996 and still hasn’t finished himself. It’s fair to say that fans both of Martin’s books and of this show are expecting something that’ll measure up to this saga’s many breathtaking, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking moments, with the same mix of epic-sized storytelling and small-scale interactions that Benioff and Weiss have handled so memorably for the past eight years.
Given what a phenomenon Game of Thrones has become, it’s easy to forget that Benioff and Weiss weren’t an obvious choice to steer this particular ship. Before the series, Weiss had written the offbeat, semi-satirical 2003 novel Lucky Wander Boy, but he had never had his name on any produced screenplay. Benioff was an accomplished novelist who’d written several well-regarded movies (including an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and an adaptation of his own book 25th Hour), but aside from writing 2004’s period war picture Troy and co-writing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he wasn’t known as a genre specialist.
But Benioff and Weiss were fans of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and they persuaded Martin to let them pitch a TV version to HBO. The two old friends had previously collaborated on a couple of scripts that didn’t get made, and they were looking for projects to work on together. Once HBO bit, two relatively inexperienced writers wound up in charge of a massive production, stretched across multiple countries, with crews working nearly around the clock. It’s no surprise, then, that since Game of Thrones has been on the air, Benioff and Weiss have only had time to work together on one non-Thrones script that’s made it to the screen. What is surprising is that the script is for an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
There’s no secret connection between the two shows; Benioff and Weiss are just Sunny fans. When they met co-creator / co-star Rob McElhenney at a party, they pitched the idea for “Flowers for Charlie.” It’s an episode reminiscent of the series’s early days, with its uncomplicated A-story, and its subplot about bartenders Mac (McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) getting high on gasoline fumes while trying to kill a rat in the bar, a task they’d ordinarily call “Charlie-work.” Don’t look too hard for any thematic link between the world of George R.R. Martin and Paddy’s Pub… although there are echoes of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s matter-of-fact philosophizing when the gas-addled gang watches cartoons to figure out how to solve their vermin problem, and comes away with the realization, “The mouse always wins… The cat keeps getting hurt.”
Who it’s for
Fans of canonical fantasy and broad comedy.
The inspiration for “Flowers for Charlie” speaks to Benioff and Weiss’s nerd cred. Keyes’ novel is an award-winning genre favorite, taking a science fiction premise — about an intellectually disabled adult who undergoes a medical treatment to boost his IQ then becomes painfully aware of his own inevitable decline — and making it relatable to a general audience by focusing on the main character’s growing unhappiness. That’s also been the key to the success of Martin’s Ice and Fire novels and to the TV adaptation: viewing world-changing events through the eyes of the people they most affect.
But there’s no reason to dwell on any of this while watching “Flowers for Charlie.” Instead, enjoy a typically gonzo Charlie Day performance, as his slob-turned-snob conducts experiments with bubbling beakers, adopts a ludicrous semi-British accent, and casts casual aspersions on Stephen Hawking and Leo Tolstoy. (“I was just looking at War and Peace and I side with Shakespeare on brevity,” he sniffs.) This is classic Sunny: a little silly, a little gross, and committed to the idea that terrible people can be funny.
Where to see it
Hulu, where Sunny fans (or the Sunny-curious) can also find the rest of the series. For more of Benioff and Weiss, Game of Thrones is available on HBO Go and HBO Now. Currently, the only movie written by Benioff that’s available on a subscription service is the 2009 remake of Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen’s Danish film Brothers, which Benioff adapted for director Jim Sheridan. That’s on Tubi and Vudu for free if you’re willing to watch ads.